20 July 2017

Flowering hens

Sempervivum tectorum, commonly known as "house leeks" or "hens and chicks", just keep spreading in our back yard. Right now, they are flowering. Sempervivum means "always living". They're called joubarbes in French, or Barbe de Jupiter. Some people refer to them as petits artichauts.

I have them planted in pots, planter boxes, and  concrete blocks all around. Some are growing directly in the sand and gravel that surrounds the house as a kind of patio.

Sempervivum plants are the kind of plants I like. They are hardy. Drought doesn't bother them. Freezing weather doesn't hurt them either. They seem to love heat and full sun. They survive and spread gradually without being invasive.

This species is native to southern Europe and North Africa, apparently. They obviously also thrive in the Loire Valley climate. They grow on rooftops and were thought in ancient times to protect houses from lightning strikes.

The first ones I had were given to me by a woman who lives on the other side of the village. G. is nearly 90 years old now, and she doesn't get out and about as much as she used to. I thank her for these plants, which I've been growing for a dozen or so years now.

19 July 2017


It was 90º up in the loft space yesterday afternoon, and 95º on the front terrace. Fans couldn't do us much good because it was hotter outside than it was in the house. It's a dry heat, however, so sleeping conditions weren't too bad. Predictions say to expect a thunderstorm today, with a high temperature in the mid-80s (all temps in ºF). Maybe the house will cool off a little.

The little sheltie puppy Natasha continues to be impeccably well-behaved on our walks in the vineyard. She runs up and down the rows of vines but comes to me whenever I call her. Yesterday she got a good look at a deer, and she ran after it for a ways through the vines. Then she came back to me when I called her. That was a real test. Walt says he thinks it was Callie the collie who showed Tasha how to behave on walks.

Our kitchen window and the terrace are both festooned with bright red geraniums this summer. They're plants that spent the winter in the new greenhouse and did very well in there.

18 July 2017

Said the spider to the ’fly...

It's hot here again. Yesterday the temperature up in the loft got up to nearly 90ºF. What a summer we are having. This morning at 5:45 a.m. it's 77ºF — 25ºC — in the house, with all the windows and doors open as wide as possible. There's not a breath of air stirring. I just turned on two electric fans.

Sunday morning I took my camera out on the walk with Natasha. I took a bunch of macro photos, and here are four of them. I was taking a photo of a Queen Anne's lace (wild carrot) flower when I noticed there was a white "crab spider" sitting on it, camouflaged.

Crab spiders are fierce hunters, apparently, but the butterfly below had nothing to fear from the spider above — it was too far away.

It was not very close to me either, but I was able to get these two photos using the zoom lens on my camera. I tried to get closer to the butterfly, but it fluttered away each time I approached.

I didn't even know whether I had managed to get a photo of the butterfly until I got home and displayed these on the computer screen. The butterfly has some wing damage from an encounter of some kind. As usual, you can enlarge the images by clicking or tapping...

17 July 2017

Glad to be in the back yard

Tasha always seems happy to get back home after one of our walks around the vineyard. She stands at the back gate and waits impatiently to be let back in.

Here's a view of the vegetable garden as I saw it yesterday morning.

It won't be long before we start getting ripe tomatoes. Walt picked some green beans day before yesterday, and we've been getting zucchini (courgettes) for a week or two now.

Yesterday I mentioned that we have grape vines in our back yard. Here they are. They're white table grapes of some kind, but the vines are shaded by two big apple trees, so they don't produce many bunches of grapes.

We do enjoy the leaves, though, at this time of year. It's unusual for us to make stuffed grapevine leaves twice in the same year, but that's what happened in 2017.

16 July 2017

More dolmas

I realized a few days ago that the leaves on the half-dozen grape vines that grow in our yard (they're table grapes) were still bright green and perfect-looking. On Friday I went out and cut four dozen of the best ones and blanched them in a steamer pot.

Then I made a rice filling for them to make grape-leaf dolmasfeuilles de vigne farcies in French. The filling is based on this recipe, but I adapted it by using crushed pistachios instead of pine nuts, chopped raisins rather than currants, and dill instead of mint. I put in less cinnamon than called for, and I added some spices including ground fennel seed and cayenne pepper. I also added two beaten eggs to the stuffing to make it "stickier" and easier to work with.

Rice stuffing for Dolmas

1¼ cups (150 g) raw rice
1 onion, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cups chicken broth (or water)
½ cup toasted pine nuts
¼ cup dried currants (tiny raisins)
¼ cup (or more) chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup (or more) chopped fresh mint
1½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. allspice
3 Tbsp. white wine
salt and pepper to taste
1 lemon (for the juice and the rind)

Cook the onion in olive oil until it softens. Add the rice and cook it in the olive oil for a couple of minutes. Add the broth and cook on low heat until the liquid is absorbed, stirring occasionally. The rice doesn't need to be completely cooked at this point, because it will cook later for quite a while inside the grape leaves.

Toast the pine nuts and add them to the warm rice along with with the currants (raisins), herbs, and spices. Mix well and and add the juice of a lemon and a little white wine — save the lemon rind to cook with the stuffed leaves. Season the rice mixture with salt and pepper, stir well, and let cool before filling and folding the grape leaves.

The stuffed leaves cooked for about an hour in a 160ºC / 320ºF oven, covered with some olive oil, chicken broth, and lemon juice. Vegetable broth or just water would be a good cooking liquid too, but don't leave out the olive oil and lemon juice. And don't let them boil too hard. We ate the dolmas warm but not hot, after they came out of the oven and cooled down. They're good with a yogurt-cucumber sauce like Greek tzatziki. See this post from 2010.